How often does God pass by us in the world and we don’t know enough to call out? How often does healing, mercy, and compassion come close and we don’t think to ask for it? How often does the world try to discourage us, telling us to be quiet when we speak out in faith?
It may be a common scenario. We live in a world that is full of distractions. We live in a world that moves very quickly. We live in a world that, at times, discourages our efforts to speak out in faith. Fortunately, Bartimaeus offers us a blueprint for encountering God faithfully.
This is an important story within the Gospel of Mark for a variety of reasons. It is the final healing story before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. In it, Bartimaeus clearly identifies Jesus as the Son of David—recognition of what is to come in the Easter story and the only occasion on which the Gospel of Mark uses the name in reference to Jesus. And unlike many of the other stories of miracles in the Gospels, Jesus does not tell Bartimaeus to refrain from sharing the miraculous thing that has happened.
In this very short story, we get a step by step manual of faith—of how to recognize, claim, and rejoice in the grace of God. Further, it highlights how the kingdom of God works out—how we can encourage one another in finding faith and how God reaches out for us when we call.
First, Bartimaeus is aware of his own brokenness. He knows that he is blind. He has experienced the judgement of those around him who believed that his blindness was a sign of disfavor, a condemnation of the sinfulness of his parents. He has experienced sitting in darkness, and being disoriented.
In the modern world, though, we have been taught to deny our own brokenness, to pretend that we are well and whole even when we aren’t. The first step to healing and wholeness is recognizing the ways in which we each need to be healed.
Second, Bartimaeus remained alert. He listened carefully—and eventually he heard murmurs and voices that told him that Jesus was near. Despite being caught in darkness, Bartimaeus remained connected to the world, to those around him, and so he knew when Jesus was near.
Then, Bartimaeus called out to Jesus relentlessly. those around him tried to silence him and he renewed his efforts. Again and again he cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He did not live out the message that he had been given by society, that he was at the bottom of the heap, that he was worthless. He did not give up hope. He was persistent. Finally, after initially trying to silence him, those around him encourage him—recognizing that something unusual is going on.
When Jesus recognized his plea, his reaction was immediate—he threw off his cloak and he sprang up. Some bible scholars say that this gesture symbolizes the willingness of those who follow God in faith to give up their earthly possessions to follow. For me, too, it indicates a sense of immediacy and momentum in moving toward God whenever we find him.
Jesus immediately asks Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” and without hesitation the blind beggar shares his deepest desire with Jesus saying “My teacher, let me see again.” He does not say what he thinks Jesus wants to hear. He does not say “please give me whatever you think i should have”.
Jesus commends him for his faith. In Greek the word that is translated to be faith in English is “pistis.” It is predominantly about having trust and confidence in God or in Christ. Hebrews 11:1 defines it in this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Finally, once healed, Bartimaeus immediately followed Jesus on his way. This decision shows that the blind man was not just cured of blindness, but he was healed in a deeper way. His response was to take his life in a new direction, following God because faith is something that must be acted upon.
Two weeks ago, I was walking through San Francisco. It was fleet week, and as my husband and I walked, we would periodically hear a giant boom in the air—and we would look up at the sky in time to see the Blue Angels in perfect formation flying by. I was thinking about how we had parked in the wrong place…and how long the walk was. I was thinking that it was hot and that I was tired. I was not thinking about the miracles of flight.
A homeless man walked up to us, wanting us to buy the Homeless Newspaper that is published to help those on the streets earn an honest living. I asked the man, “Have you seen the planes today?” A grin of sheer delight broke out over his face—and he replied with enthusiasm, “Oh, yes, I’ve almost broken my neck looking up!”
His joy was contagious…and suddenly, my heart felt lighter and I felt the sense of wonder he had and I was humbled by how much this man had to teach me about mindfulness and living in the moment…and about faith.
Sometimes, we are blind and don’t know enough to call out. Sometimes, though, God passes close by and we find our voice and we call out. We have the courage to ask for our true heart’s desire, and we are given faith.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos, on October 25, 2015.